November 1st, All Souls Day in the Catholic tradition, called for a different kind of costuming then the typical ghouls and fanciful witches of Halloween. That day, back in the 1950s, meant becoming a Little Saint for the day; dressing as a favorite saint or archangel following the time after daily Mass and before lunch. There were many saints to choose from. Our parish church, Saint John Nepomuk,, located adjacent to the grade school, held dozens of relics from martyred Catholics thru the ages. Bones and fragments, or cloth said to have touched the body or coffin of a saint was carefully encased in glass, then set in standing crosses of gold and featured throughout the church.
Even as a fourth grader, it seemed unlikely that the relics were authentic. How, I asked, how many pieces of a skeleton could be divided among the thousands of churches in the world? Still, it was a fascinating and macabre distraction...staring at the relics from a pew during Mass.
My mother Helen, a craftsperson, artist, and sewer, enjoyed decking her kids out for All Souls Day. She’d make flowing gowns, create gossamer wings, fashioned halos from coat hangers.
If the saint was martyred, as most seemed to be, it was popular to illustrate the moments before the heroic death. One year, I was a version of a Saint Ann, the one who was shot thru with arrows by some who demanded she renounce her faith. She, of course, refused and paid with her life. My mother made a complicated vest punctured with broken arrows, with the appropriate streams of blood coursing down my silky white robe. The costume was difficult to move in, yet I was reverently proud and knew my mother had done Saint Ann justice.
Not surprising, the nuns delighted in the gorier costumes as much as the kids. Martyrdom and the cult of relics was much admired and highlighted throughout the Catholic teachings, Christ dying on the cross the most prominent example.
To this day, I admire Saint Anne although a brief Google search brought up no such saint. Saint Sebastian is claimed to death by arrow, and quite prominently so. Rather, Saint Anne Line is well featured. Anne Line was executed in 1601 AD in Britain for harboring a runaway Catholic priest. Right at the start of the Burning Times. Odd, the Catholic Church executing their own, then turning around decades later and honoring them with sainthood. But that’s a story for another day.
Today, All Souls Day, I acknowledge all the Ann’s, my mother and the wild experience of being dressed as a saint. At least, for a short time.